Recipes, people, places and things we love — every month. Head to Substack to support our work. Visit  Later


In conversation with Keva Rands of Papa Clothing

Photography by Tracey Creed
Words by Keva Rands

Published November 26 2022

Keva Rands of Papa Clothing embodies a modern sensibility of sustainability, her collections prioritising community, representing an opportunity to have her Pasifika people seen and prioritised. Rand's inclusivity-focused label crosses notions of gender; her work reflects her upbringing and celebrates her homeland — as well as the hope and traditions.

If you can, start close to the beginning. How did you venture into the world of fashion?

I attended AUT studying fashion design, and after graduating, I joined a collective of fellow students and other young designers in 2014. We were able to design what we thought was wearable, unique fashion, and that was the first time I designed and made some of the exact same styles as I still make today. It was an opportunity to test my designs on real people, and they loved what I made. Some are still wearing those clothes today.

What’s been the most challenging lesson you have learnt since you started your business?

I think it’s been that it never stops, and every aspect of the business you’ll need to learn about because you are running it all. I learnt a term recently called ‘10 Hats’, which refers to the 10 hats you wear as a business owner / sole trader. I think the toughest hats for me have been “accountant” and “marketing” because I’ve had to self-teach those skills on top of designing, production, sales, admin, IT, website development, business development and studio cleaner!

Your designs and process incorporate aspects of your heritage and experiences as a Pacific woman living in Tāmaki Makaurau. How have these very personal aspects of your being shaped your work and the message of Papa Clothing?

I’ve learnt that as a member of the Pasifika community, I have an opportunity to have our people seen and prioritised in Papa’s design and media campaigns. The term FUBU— for us, by us, is at the forefront of my mind when designing. That and the wider community of other cultural groups and allies that get something from that vantage point is the exact extension I could hope for. It is such a privilege to be able to prioritise my community.

You were raised in an eco-village in Northland, Aotearoa. Despite the clothing industry’s fraught relationship with nature, Papa Clothing merges practical design with quality, social responsibility, and environmental awareness. How has your upbringing informed your approach to design and business?

It strongly influences my choice of materials and processes. I only make clothing from 100% natural materials, i.e. linen, cotton, wool, and silk, and we produce locally in small quantities. My parents always have sage advice when tough decisions need to be made, and their journey inspires me to keep going when I think I don't have the resources or enough in the metaphorical tank.

You love linen and work exclusively with natural fibres, which inform your designs. How do you balance material costs and the extra work to remain low-impact and viable?

The materials I use do have an extra cost to them, but these environmental and ethical values of the brand are something I’m not prepared to compromise. This means the cost of the garment being made all natural and local can add up, and the business often absorbs extra expense to keep our garments as accessible as possible. As long as we can afford to absorb these costs, we will.

Papa Clothing comes in waves, an approach which seeks to limit waste. What inspires your releases?

The Waves concept came from a conversation with my business mentors at Oyster Workshop, who tried to help me encompass the gentle and rhythmic motion of releasing small collections of natural pieces to a local market. I design throughout the year, and once I have a certain amount of sellable styles and have sourced a good amount of interesting fabrics from across Auckland’s fabric merchants, I reach out to our makers and see their availability. We collectively make a timeline for each new Wave. It's a never-ending flow with overlapping bits and small breathers.

Durability and lifecycle are vital to the sustainability of a product; how do you ensure the longevity of your garments? And what does the Slow Fashion movement mean to you?

I ensure longevity with our construction choices, the makers we work with, and the materials we use. Slow fashion, for me, is about taking away the harmful impact fashion has on the planet and people making the garments and prioritising considerate design that caters to real people without causing harm anywhere down the supply chain or to the wearer. It’s about investing in long-lasting, thoughtful pieces that won’t fall apart or directly impact the well-being of the people who absorb the cost with their underpaid labour. I don’t believe in shaming those who can only afford fast fashion. The pay inequity worldwide means not everyone can afford nice things, and that’s a whole other essay.

Your attention to aesthetics and quality, the notion of keeping things forever, has been part of your ethos from inception. Yes, you have to sell clothes, but this is also about heritage, inclusivity, community and climate. How do we challenge and reimagine the broken fashion system?

I think an amazing and empowering thing we can do is upskill our communities in the dying art of sewing at home. Even if more people could crop pants they don’t wear as much as they would or turn an old dress into a new skirt, we would all have a different relationship to our existing wardrobes. I want to work on having that ongoing relationship with my clients where I can support them with hemming and mending their Papa pieces. I already have that relationship with many of my clients, which can give the garments a whole new life.

And finally, what excites and/or daunts you about the future of the garment industry and why?

I think the exciting thing we could possibly look forward to is a slow change. One we see already in the way people consume clothing. Even large brands are producing ethical lines (which isn’t nearly enough), which I believe is thanks to the action people are taking with their voices and shopping choices. Power to the people!

Dive deeper

© LAGOM 2024, All rights reserved